Capping off what was the biggest legislative circus in a hundred years was the collapse on Capitol Hill last night of Republican House Speaker John Boehner's "Plan B," an attempt to avoid the "fiscal cliff" by continuing tax cuts for most of the wealthy and by slashing programs critical to poor and working-class people.
Boehner conceived the plan as a means to pressure President Obama and Democrats to make bigger and bigger compromises in the high stakes "fiscal cliff" negotiations going on in Washington.
"If House Speaker John Boehner really wanted to address the true causes of our long term budget imbalance, the last thing he would ask Congress to do is pass more wasteful tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans," AFL-CIO Government Affairs Director Bull Samuels said in a letter he fired off to lawmakers just hours before the vote.
Boehner, instead of continuing negotiations with President Obama, decided earlier this week to push his "Plan B" that would make permanent the tax cuts on people making $250,000 to $1 million a year. The Boehner plan also called for making permanent huge cuts to the estate tax for wealthy Americans while ending tax credits for students and workers.
"While showering tax breaks with hundreds of billions of dollars on the richest Americans, Republicans continue to demand over $100 billion in cuts to Social Security cost-of-living-adjustments through the so-called chained CPI," said Samuels.
Alliance for Retired Americans Executive Director Edward Cole said, "Under what is coldly labeled as the chained CPI, a worker retiring in 2011 at age 65, would lose over $6,000 over 15 tears. We must reject that and we must change a tax system that puts Social Security at risk to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy."
"Austerity is not the answer," said RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United. "A modest tax on Wall Street speculation could generate $350 billion every year. An amount that could save over 1.7 million homes from foreclosure, or finance 9 million new jobs."
The speaker pulled his plan last night after it became clear that he didn't have the 217 votes needed for it to pass in the House. The failure to get it passed is seen as changing the dynamics in the negotiations to reach a deal.
Right wing extremist groups jumped to claim credit for Boehner's failure. Mike Needham, executive director of Heritage Action, told the Huffington Post, "We were on the phone all day long today, talking to members of Congress." Heritage Action is the political action committee of the Heritage Foundation. "I think we definitely changed people's minds today, absolutely," he said.
Pulitzer Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times "the Republican crazies have (actually) saved the day.
"Earlier this week progressives suddenly had the sinking feeling that the Obama administration was...giving way on issues where it had promised to hold the line - perpetuating a substantial proportion of the high-income Bush tax cuts and effectively cutting Social Security benefits...The Republican crazies are doing Mr. Obama a favor, heading off any temptation he may have felt to give away the store in pursuit of bipartisan dreams."
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich declared, after the spectacle on Capitol Hill last night, that the Republican Party "has become a party of hypocrisy masquerading as principled ideology. The GOP talks endlessly about the importance of reducing the budget deficit. But it isn't even willing to raise revenues from the richest three-tenths of one percent of Americans to help with the task we're talking about 400,000 people, for crying out loud."
When he pulled Plan B last night, Boehner adjourned the House.
As of Friday afternoon, Dec. 21, no negotiations between Republicans and the White House on the expiring "middle-class" tax cuts and automatic spending cuts set to go into effect Jan. 1 are scheduled.
But a White House spokesman said, "The president will work with Congress to get this done, and we are hopeful that we will be able to find a bipartisan solution that protects the middle class and our economy."